Demand of money for construction of a house amounts to ‘dowry demand’, rules SC

The Supreme Court in the case of State of Madhya Pradesh v/s Jogendra & Anr. ruled that the demand of money for construction of a house shall amount to ‘dowry demand’.

The deceased was 18 years old when she got married to the respondent in a social marriage organization function. Before her marriage, Geeta Bai along with her mother, Kamla Bai and her brother used to reside with her maternal uncle, Bansi Lal. In less than four years of her marriage, Geeta Bai committed suicide at her matrimonial home by pouring kerosene oil and setting herself on fire. She was admitted in a burnt condition in the Community Health Center, Baroda and breathed her last on the same day. At that time, she was five months pregnant.

Mr. Prashant Singh, Advocate General for the appellant State, assailed the impugned judgment and contended that the High Court has failed to appreciate the harassment caused to the deceased at the hands of the respondents who had been constantly demanding money from her to construct a house and purchase a plot of land.

Mr. Singh further contended that the High Court did not consider the testimonies of persecution witnesses, who had unanimously stated that whenever the deceased used to visit her parental home, she would complain that she was being subjected to assault by the respondents for bringing a sum of Rs.50,000/- for constructing a house and that it was due to this harassment caused by them that the deceased got fed up and was forced to commit suicide.

The three Judges bench of the Chief Justice of India, N. V. Ramana, Justice A. S. Bopanna and Justice Hima Kohli in the light of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 noted that the word “dowry” takes in its ambit any kind of property or valuable security and the High Court fell into an error by holding that the demand of money for construction of a house cannot be treated as a dowry demand.

The court said that in view of the circumstances of the case it hardly mitigate the offence of the respondents or take the case out of the purview of Section 304-B IPC, when all the four prerequisites for invoking the said provision stand satisfied, namely, that the death of Geeta Bai took place at her matrimonial home within seven years of her marriage; that the said death took place in abnormal circumstances on account of burning and that too when she was five months pregnant, that she had been subjected to cruelty and harassment by the respondents soon before her death and such cruelty/harassment was in connection with demand for dowry.

The court, while partly allowing the appeal, restored the judgment of conviction and sentence passed by the trial Court in respect of both the respondents under Section 304-B and Section 498-A IPC and directed the respondents to surrender before the trial Court within four weeks to undergo the remaining period of their sentence.

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